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Mutton, music and those magnificent Mangys

A Bengaluru neighbourhood is enriched by the laughter, songs and food of the Mangaloreans  

Lisa Govias' mutton bafat roce curry (Photo: Samar Halarnkar)
Lisa Govias' mutton bafat roce curry (Photo: Samar Halarnkar)

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They laugh a lot, they sing a lot—almost always in harmony, given their association with church choirs—and they like to eat well and, well, eat a lot. All the Fernandeses, Saldanhas, Sequeiras, D’Souzas, Goviases, Albuquerques and so many more with all those distinctively Iberian last names have enriched my life since I was a child.

Our neighbourhood, lives and food would be much poorer without the Mangys. That is the somewhat politically incorrect but droll term by which Mangaloreans, primarily of Roman Catholic persuasion, refer to themselves.

Our 12-year-old’s felicity with the piano and her eight-year vocal training in a wonderful choir called the Bangalore Children’s Chorus are entirely the result of the Mangalorean Roman Catholic environment around her (the other dominating influence is Muslim, which allows her to partake not just of another marvellous set of cuisines but adapt easily to that culture as well). So, A flat and D major scales may be mysterious places for us but not for her. I am tone deaf, and her mother is given to Hindi or Urdu film songs of a certain provenance, mostly the 1950s-60s—give her a tune and she can sing the entire song, whether Lata Mangeshkar or Begum Akhtar.

But the most pernicious daily influence of the Mangys is on our food, for two reasons. One, it shares great similarities with my native Goan cuisine, but because the local stores stock Mangalorean spices and ingredients, some of which are distinct, I use them a lot. Two, there are just so many Mangy home chefs around that one cannot but help be influenced by, or order from, them.

Now, we have access to a variety of home-made cuisines, from Navayath Muslim to Punjabi to Ao Naga (and our favourite Parsi baker) but my go-to home chef is a calm Mangalorean, Lisa Govias, whose daily offerings show up in my WhatsApp almost every day.

My fridge is always stocked with her long-term offerings, including chicken, beef cutlets and meatballs, and I frequently order her specials, which range from prawn biryani to roast chicken. But her best offerings are the bafats—pork, chicken and mutton—especially those made in roce, which in Konkani is coconut milk, used widely by Goans, Keralites, Maharashtrians and Mangaloreans. The bafat, or baffat, is a distinctively Mangalorean (and Goan) masala with Portuguese influences, used for meat, especially pork or dukramaas. As with so many Indian cultures, each house originally made its own bafat powder in bulk with its own mix of spices. There are now various brands available; Govias uses Savitha Bafat Powder.

Like many industrious Mangaloreans, she is so much more than her bafat. She is a baker, a Reiki and Akashic healer, a counsellor. She began baking at 7, cooking for her family—more than 25, typical of the Mangaloreans—in her teens, catering for 100-plus dinners by 21. Home, she says, is where her hearth is, where “five burners burn every day”, fuelling her home-catering business Pepper That.

Govias doesn’t offer bafat as often as I would like, so I asked for her recipe.

It wasn’t nearly as good, but it was a good enough substitute. You can make bafat masala at home, using your own combination of dried Kashmiri chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, black peppercorn, turmeric, cinnamon and cloves.

Serves 8

1kg mutton, cut into medium pieces
2 onions, chopped fine
2 tomatoes, chopped fine
2 medium-sized potatoes, cut into quarters
2 slit green chillies
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
One-third cup tamarind juice
Juice of 1 coconut (thin and thick milk) or 3 coconut milk powder sachets
2 -3 heaped tbsp bafat powder
3-4 cardamom pods
3-4 cloves
1-2 sticks of cinnamon
2-3 tbsp coconut oil
Salt to taste

Wash and put mutton to boil with water and salt for 30-45 minutes till tender. You can also pressure-cook it. Add the potatoes to parboil with the mutton about 10 minutes or so before it is done. In a vessel, heat oil, add in the whole spices, then sauté the onions till they start turning brown. Add the ginger and garlic paste and fry well for a few minutes, add the tomatoes and let cook until they break down. Lower the heat and add the bafat masala. Fry for 30-40 seconds, then add the tamarind juice and mix well. Add the remaining water from the boiled mutton and let it come to a boil. Add the mutton and potatoes and let it boil for a few minutes.

You can now can add the thin coconut milk. If you are using the sachets, add one packet, mixed in one-third cup of warm water. Let it cook for about five minutes. Add in the sliced green chillies and salt to taste. Then add the remaining thick coconut milk or the two sachets mixed in warm water. Let it boil for a few minutes. Lastly, add a tablespoon of coconut oil and then take off the heat. Serve hot with rice as an accompaniment.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. @samar11

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